Climate and Environment

Groups worry about water quality as fishing resumes in Oriental Mindoro

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Groups worry about water quality as fishing resumes in Oriental Mindoro
In this picture taken on March 22, 2023, fishermen wearing personal protective equipment take part in a clean-up operation from the oil spill of the sunken tanker Princess Empress along the coast in Pola, Oriental Mindoro province.
AFP/Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — Environmentalists questioned the lifting of the fishing ban in Oriental Mindoro, saying results of their own tests showed oil and grease levels in two towns were higher than the safety standard.

Oriental Mindoro Governor Humerlito Dolor announced Wednesday the lifting of the fishing ban in Pola after findings from the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources suggested that the town’s waters are safe for fishing. Pola was the last in the province to still have a fishing ban. 

But a rapid assessment conducted by the Center for Energy, Ecology and Development on July 17 found that five of six marine protected areas in Pola and Pinamalayan failed the standards of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for oil and grease levels. 

The protected areas that had high levels of oil and grease were Ranzo Fish Sanctuary and Banilad Simbrio Fish Sanctuary in Pinamalayan; and St. John the Baptist Reserve, St. Peter the Rock, and King Fisheries Reserve in Pola, CEED said.

Brent Ivan Andres, who heads CEED’s Oceans, Coastal Communities and Climate Program, said this is a “big cause of concern” as these MPAs serve as breeding grounds for fish. 

“The interconnectivity of our waters and fish spillover tells us that fish don’t stay in one place which exposes the communities, not just in Pola and Pinamalayan, to the possibility of ingesting fish that is not safe for consumption,” Andres said. 


Andres also called on BFAR to release the results of their water quality tests to determine if the agency's findings are “comprehensive enough to merit the lifting of the fishing ban.”

Citing data from BFAR, Dolor said last week that the oil and grease levels in the waters of Pola were “within Class SC standard” and free of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons — a group of chemicals present in crude oil.

“Almost five months into the oil spill, information such as the exact sites of sampling, and when and how often their tests were conducted must be accessible to guarantee the safety of our fisherfolks and the community as a whole,” he said.

Andres added that the results of CEED’s water quality test corroborate the presence of oil traces and tar balls along the shores of Pola.

Mayor: Fish far from the shoreline

Pola Mayor Jennifer Cruz expressed concern over what seemed to be a premature lifting of fishing ban in Oriental Mindoro.

“I advise those who would resume their normal fishing operations to do so far from the polluted shoreline,” she said.  

Ahead of the second State of the Nation Address of President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., the Protect Verde Island Passage renewed its call for a concrete plan for cleanup, just compensation, accountability, rehabilitation, and policy and legal reforms to prevent similar incidents in the future. 

“The aftermath of this tragedy goes beyond what the eyes can see: the loss of livelihoods, the families whose daily lives have been disrupted, and the ecological destruction of the biodiverse waters of the Verde Island Passage,” said Fr. Edwin Gariguez, lead convenor of Protect VIP. 

No compensation has been paid to fishing communities affected by the oil spill.

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